- Self-disclosure is a tool for healthcare professionals to use with clients when appropriate and advantageous to the clients. Understanding self-disclosure and the impact it can have on your clients, both positive and harmful, is important to consider as a healthcare professional.
- There are also some thoughts to consider to ensure the best client experience in the context of self-disclosure. These include noting the impact of socio-cultural factors on the disclosure, knowing your client well before disclosing, and discussing the disclosure with your client. More suggestions have been included throughout this blog post.
Today, the practice of healthcare professionals often asks that individuals think outside the box to provide person-centred care to their clients. The goal is for healthcare professionals to be creative when facing complex situations.
A way of providing better care to your clients can include you considering the use of self-disclosure.
Self-disclosure is the process of revealing information about oneself to another individual. As a healthcare professional, this can include sharing personal and professional information to colleagues, networks or clients.
In this article, we will be focusing on self-disclosure as a practice performed by a healthcare professional in the context of their client work. We will discuss the process of sharing with a client information about one’s life outside the boundaries of one’s professional identity.
Choosing to be a Healthcare Professional as an Expert or a Healthcare Professional as an Individual?
Much of the work of healthcare professionals is done from the perspective of professional expertise. It is the choice of showing up for a client as an expert in a specific field.
When we consider self-disclosure, we consider showing up for a client as an individual. This choice is the foundation to understanding self-disclosure by healthcare professionals.
This choice is an important one to consider. To better understand the choice that you are making, consider the various types of disclosures that exist—inevitable, accidental, initiated by a client and deliberate.
Inevitable: This type of disclosure is unavoidable. It includes aspects of your being that are very difficult to hide. Examples include your age, gender, pregnancy, religious symbols, office décor, physical disabilities, etc. It includes every piece of yourself and your environment that is visible to your client as being subject to disclose pieces of your person.
Accidental: Considering that healthcare professionals have personal lives outside of their professional practice, it is possible for healthcare professionals and clients to cross paths outside of the office. This has the potential to divulge personal information about the healthcare professional, such as where they live, their hobbies, and their family dynamics.
Initiated by a client: With today’s technological resources, there is a chance that a client actively seeking information on a healthcare professional obtains their personal information. This type of disclosure can have an impact on the professional relationship between a healthcare professional and their client, and therefore must be addressed.
Deliberate: This type of disclosure requires the healthcare professional to intentionally divulge personal information to their client. This includes revelations (healthcare professionals talk about themselves) or implications (healthcare professionals react to specific moments within the professional relationship).
Within any of these types of disclosure, a healthcare professional can disclose various types of information. This can include facts, feelings, insights, strategies, reassurance, support, and challenges.
It is also important to consider the timing of disclosure within one’s professional relationship with a client. Disclosure can be done with new clients, to overcome impasses or ruptures in alliances and at the end of a relationship.
How Appropriate Is Self-Disclosure as a Healthcare Professional?
The technique of self-disclosure can be used to various ends. This transparency with a client can be either helpful or counterproductive. Reasons to self-disclose include, but are certainly not limited to, the sharing of information, autonomy, alliances, ethical obligations, validation, introspection, reassurance and normalization.
It is essential that healthcare professionals consider the advantages of appropriate self-disclosure and the limitations of this practice.
The advantages of appropriate self-disclosure include:
- Increasing the sense of support;
- Developing a sense of closeness;
- Encouraging revelations of distress;
- Providing a motivational model;
- Fostering a special professional bond;
- Developing trust;
- Deformalizing the profession;
- Humanizing healthcare professionals, and;
- Equalizing the perceived power difference.
The limitations of self-disclosure to consider include:
- Changing in the professional relationship;
- Inviting demands unrelated to the professional service;
- Inciting too much curiosity;
- Developing various strong emotions;
- Developing adverse behaviours;
- Developing psychological dependency;
- Losing professional credibility, and;
- Blurring the client-professional boundaries.
What Space is there for Self-Disclosure by Healthcare Professionals?
As the healthcare professional working with your clients, you are best positioned to know if and when self-disclosure is appropriate. Self-disclosure, like we previously explored, has advantages and limitations. These are important to keep in mind.
Still, your professional experience and intuition can also support you in the process of self-disclosing to a client. Put some thought into this aspect of the decision as well.
Otherwise, when considering if self-disclosure is appropriate within your professional relationship with a client, contemplate these thoughts:
- Clear communication is essential—use appropriate language and content as well as correct levels of intimacy.
- Ensure tact, judgment, patience, humility, perseverance and sensibility on your part.
- Choose the right moment to disclose to your client—keeping in mind that these moments should be infrequent.
- Understand that clients and healthcare professionals have different understandings of what is known and what is being revealed.
- Intentions behind self-disclosure must be centred on the client, understanding the reason for your disclosure can be helpful.
- Know the client well before disclosing.
- Pay special attention to socio-cultural contexts.
- Immediately return the focus on the client after the disclosure.
- Ask to discuss with the client the disclosure—their response is an important piece of information for you.
- Only disclose on issues that have been resolved for yourself—nothing that you can continue to struggle with.
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